Political Emotions: What do Tories feel?
Liam Byrne has a reputation of being something of an egghead, a technocrat - even a wonk. His excellent piece for Demos on power politics shows his brainy side. But when I interviewed him for the R4 Political Roots programme he showed that he emotes too. The emotion that drove him to join the Labour Party at the age of 15 (he lied about his age) was anger. 'I joined the Labour Party not long after the miners’ strike when, like many people I think of my generation in politics, that was an intensely politicising experience for me. And I remember crying with rage at what I saw on the television of you know what I saw as police baton charging working communities who were standing up for their community way of life and you know for their work.'
Byrne thinks that anger - righteous anger, against injustice - is a defining emotion for people on the left in politics. He's not an angry young men anymore, but that's only because he's not young anymore. Last week I had a long chat with Clegg and he argued that liberals were fundamentally optimistic about the chances of progress. And a central theme of liberal thought and practice is indeed the hope that free people will lead good lives, and create good communities and societies. If social democrats are angry, and liberals are hopeful, I wonder what emotion characterises conservatives? Here are some ideas people have given me so far for the Tory emotion:
- anger at different things: modernity, Europe, immigration
- fear of modernity, of social breakdown, of difference
- wistfulness for an age that has passed
- pride in Britain, in history, in certain institutions
Then again, perhaps conservatism is a less intrinsically emotional enterprise; perhaps it is more pragmatic, more accepting, more relaxed about the way things are.